Theodore Roosevelt (18581919). An Autobiography. 1913.
VIII THE NEW YORK GOVERNORSHIP
IN September, 1898, the First Volunteer Cavalry, in company with most of the rest of the Fifth Army Corps, was disembarked at Montauk Point. Shortly after it was disbanded, and a few days later, I was nominated for Governor of New York by the Republican party. Timothy L. Woodruff was nominated for Lieutenant-Governor. He was my stanch friend throughout the term of our joint service.
The previous year, the machine or standpat Republicans, who were under the domination of Senator Platt, had come to a complete break with the anti-machine element over the New York mayoralty. This had brought the Republican party to a smash, not only in New York City, but in the State, where the Democratic candidate for Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, Alton B. Parker, was elected by sixty or eighty thousand majority. Mr. Parker was an able man, a lieutenant of Mr. Hill's, standing close to the conservative Democrats of the Wall Street type. These conservative Democrats were planning how to wrest the Democratic party from the control of Mr. Bryan. They hailed Judge Parker's victory as a godsend. The Judge at once loomed up as a Presidential possibility, and was carefully groomed for the position by the New York Democratic machine, and its financial allies in the New York business world.
The Republicans realized that the chances were very much against them. Accordingly the leaders were in a chastened mood and ready to nominate any candidate with whom they thought there was a chance of winning. I was the only possibility, and, accordingly, under pressure from certain of the leaders who recognized this fact, and who responded to popular pressure, Senator Platt picked me for the nomination. He was entirely frank in the matter. He made no pretense that he liked me personally; but he deferred to the judgment of those who insisted that I was the only man who could be elected, and that therefore I had to be nominated.
Foremost among the leaders who pressed me on Mr. Platt (who "pestered" him about me, to use his own words) were Mr. Quigg, Mr. Odellthen State Chairman of the Republican organization, and afterwards Governorand Mr. Hazel, now United States Judge. Judge Hazel did not know me personally, but felt that the sentiment in his city, Buffalo, demanded my nomination, and that the then Republican Governor, Mr. Black, could not be reëlected. Mr. Odell, who hardly knew me personally, felt the same way about Mr. Black's chances, and, as he had just taken the State Chairmanship, he was very anxious to win a victory. Mr. Quigg knew me quite well personally; he had been in touch with me for years, while he was a reporter on the Tribune, and also when he edited a paper in Montana; he had been on good terms with me while he was in Congress and I was Civil Service Commissioner, meeting me often in company with my especial cronies in Congressmen like Lodge, Speaker Tom Reed, Greenhalge, Butterworth, and Dolliverand he had urged my appointment as Police Commissioner on Mayor Strong.
It was Mr. Quigg who called on me at Montauk Point to sound me about the Governorship; Mr. Platt being by no means enthusiastic over Mr. Quigg's mission, largely because he disapproved of the Spanish War and of my part in bringing it about. Mr. Quigg saw me in my tent, in which he spent a couple of hours with me, my brother-in-law, Douglas Robinson, being also present. Quigg spoke very frankly to me, stating that he earnestly desired to see me nominated and believed that the great body of Republican voters in the State so desired, but that the organization and the State Convention would finally do what Senator Platt desired. He said that county leaders were already coming to Senator Platt, hinting at a close election, expressing doubt of Governor Black's availability for reëlection, and asking why it would not be a good thing to nominate me; that now that I had returned to the United States this would go on more and more all the time, and that he (Quigg) did not wish that these men should be discouraged and be sent back to their localities to suppress a rising sentiment in my favor. For this reason he said that he wanted from me a plain statement as to whether or not I wanted the nomination, and as to what would be my attitude toward the organization in the event of my nomination and election, whether or not I would "make war" on Mr. Platt and his friends, or whether I would confer with them and with the organization leaders generally, and give fair consideration to their point of view as to party policy and public interest. He said he had not come to make me any offer of the nomination, and had no authority to do so, nor to get any pledges or promises. He simply wanted a frank definition of my attitude towards existing party conditions.
To this I replied that I should like to be nominated, and if nominated would promise to throw myself into the campaign with all possible energy. I said that I should not make war on Mr. Platt or anybody else if war could be avoided; that what I wanted was to be Governor and not a faction leader; that I certainly would confer with the organization men, as with everybody else who seemed to me to have knowledge of and interest in public affairs, and that as to Mr. Platt and the organization leaders, I would do so in the sincere hope that there might always result harmony of opinion and purpose; but that while I would try to get on well with the organization, the organization must with equal sincerity strive to do what I regarded as essential for the public good; and that in every case, after full consideration of what everybody had to say who might possess real knowledge of the matter, I should have to act finally as my own judgment and conscience dictated and administer the State government as I thought it ought to be administered. Quigg said that this was precisely what he supposed I would say, that it was all anybody could expect, and that he would state it to Senator Platt precisely as I had put it to him, which he accordingly did; and, throughout my term as Governor, Quigg lived loyally up to our understanding. 1
After being nominated, I made a hard and aggressive campaign through the State. My opponent was a respectable man, a judge, behind whom stood Mr. Croker, the boss of Tammany Hall. My object was to make the people understand that it was Croker, and not the nominal candidate, who was my real opponent; that the choice lay between Crokerism and myself. Croker was a powerful and truculent man, the autocrat of his organization, and of a domineering nature. For his own reasons he insisted upon Tammany's turning down an excellent Democratic judge who was a candidate for reëlection. This gave me my chance. Under my attack, Croker, who was a stalwart fighting man and who would not take an attack tamely, himself came to the front. I was able to fix the contest in the public mind as one between himself and myself; and, against all probabilities, I won by the rather narrow margin of eighteen thousand plurality.
As I have already said, there is a lunatic fringe to every reform movement. At least nine-tenths of all the sincere reformers supported me; but the ultra-pacifists, the so-called anti-imperialists, or anti-militarists, or peace-at-any-price men, preferred Croker to me; and another knot of extremists who had at first ardently insisted that I must be "forced" on Platt, as soon as Platt supported me themselves opposed me because he supported me. After election John Hay wrote me as follows: "While you are Governor, I believe the party can be made solid as never before. You have already shown that a man may be absolutely honest and yet practical; a reformer by instinct and a wise politician; brave, bold, and uncompromising, and yet not a wild ass of the desert. The exhibition made by the professional independents in voting against you for no reason on earth except that somebody else was voting for you, is a lesson that is worth its cost."
At that time boss rule was at its very zenith. Mr. Bryan's candidacy in 1896 on a free silver platform had threatened such frightful business disaster as to make the business men, the wage-workers, and the professional classes generally, turn eagerly to the Republican party. East of the Mississippi the Republican vote for Mr. McKinley was larger by far than it had been for Abraham Lincoln in the days when the life of the Nation was at stake. Mr. Bryan championed many sorely needed reforms in the interest of the plain people; but many of his platform proposals, economic and otherwise, were of such a character that to have put them into practice would have meant to plunge all our people into conditions far worse than any of those for which he sought a remedy. The free silver advocates included sincere and upright men who were able to make a strong case for their position; but with them and dominating them were all the believers in the complete or partial repudiation of National, State, and private debts; and not only the business men but the workingmen grew to feel that under these circumstances too heavy a price could not be paid to avert the Democratic triumph. The fear of Mr. Bryan threw almost all the leading men of all classes into the arms of whoever opposed him.
The Republican bosses, who were already very powerful, and who were already in fairly close alliance with the privileged interests, now found everything working to their advantage. Good and high-minded men of conservative temperament in their panic played into the hands of the ultra-reactionaries of business and politics. The alliance between the two kinds of privilege, political and financial, was closely cemented; and wherever there was any attempt to break it up, the cry was at once raised that this merely represented another phase of the assault on National honesty and individual and mercantile integrity. As so often happens, the excesses and threats of an unwise and extreme radicalism had resulted in immensely strengthening the position of the beneficiaries of reaction. This was the era when the Standard Oil Company achieved a mastery of Pennsylvania politics so far-reaching and so corrupt that it is difficult to describe it without seeming to exaggerate.
In New York State, United States Senator Platt was the absolute boss of the Republican party. "Big business" was back of him; yet at the time this, the most important element in his strength, was only imperfectly understood. It was not until I was elected Governor that I myself came to understand it. We were still accustomed to talking of the "machine" as if it were something merely political, with which business had nothing to do. Senator Platt did not use his political position to advance his private fortunestherein differing absolutely from many other political bosses. He lived in hotels and had few extravagant tastes. Indeed, I could not find that he had any tastes at all except for politics, and on rare occasions for a very dry theology wholly divorced from moral implications. But big business men contributed to him large sums of money, which enabled him to keep his grip on the machine and secured for them the help of the machine if they were threatened with adverse legislation. The contributions were given in the guise of contributions for campaign purposes, of money for the good of the party; when the money was contributed there was rarely talk of specific favors in return. 2 It was simply put into Mr. Platt's hands and treated by him as in the campaign chest. Then he distributed it in the districts where it was most needed by the candidates and organization leaders. Ordinarily no pledge was required from the latter to the bosses, any more than it was required by the business men from Mr. Platt or his lieutenants. No pledge was needed. It was all a "gentlemen's understanding." As the Senator once said to me, if a man's character was such that it was necessary to get a promise from him, it was clear proof that his character was such that the promise would not be worth anything after it was made.
It must not be forgotten that some of the worst practices of the machine in dealings of this kind represented merely virtues in the wrong place, virtues wrenched out of proper relation to their surroundings. A man in a doubtful district might win only because of the help Mr. Platt gave him; he might be a decent young fellow without money enough to finance his own campaign, who was able to finance it only because Platt of his own accord found out or was apprised of his need and advanced the money. Such a man felt grateful, and, because of his good qualities, joined with the purely sordid and corrupt heelers and crooked politicians to become part of the Platt machine. In his turn Mr. Platt was recognized by the business men, the big contributors, as an honorable man; not only a man of his word, but a man who, whenever he received a favor, could be trusted to do his best to repay it on any occasion that arose. I believe that usually the contributors, and the recipient, sincerely felt that the transaction was proper and subserved the cause of good politics and good business; and, indeed, as regards the major part of the contributions, it is probable that this was the fact, and that the only criticism that could properly be made about the contributions was that they were not made with publicityand at that time neither the parties nor the public had any realization that publicity was necessary, or any adequate understanding of the dangers of the "invisible empire" which throve by what was done in secrecy. Many, probably most, of the contributors of this type never wished anything personal in exchange for their contributions, and made them with sincere patriotism, desiring in return only that the Government should be conducted on a proper basis. Unfortunately, it was, in practice, exceedingly difficult to distinguish these men from the others who contributed big sums to the various party bosses with the expectation of gaining concrete and personal advantages (in which the bosses shared) at the expense of the general public. It was very hard to draw the line between these two types of contributions.
There was but one kind of money contributions as to which it seemed to me absolutely impossible for either the contributor or the recipient to disguise to themselves the evil meaning of the contribution. This was where a big corporation contributed to both political parties. I knew of one such case where in a State campaign a big corporation which had many dealings with public officials frankly contributed in the neighborhood of a hundred thousand dollars to one campaign fund and fifty thousand dollars to the campaign fund of the other sideand, I believe, made some further substantial contributions in the same ratio of two dollars to one side for every one dollar given to the other. The contributors were Democrats, and the big contributions went to the Democratic managers. The Republican was elected, and after his election, when a matter came up affecting the company, in which its interests were hostile to those of the general public, the successful candidate, then holding a high State office, was approached by his campaign managers and the situation put frankly before him. He was less disturbed than astonished, and remarked, "Why, I thought So-and-so and his associates were Democrats and subscribed to the Democratic campaign fund." "So they did," was the answer; "they subscribed to them twice as much as they subscribed to us, but if they had had any idea that you intended doing what you now say you will do, they would have subscribed it all to the other side, and more too." The State official in his turn answered that he was very sorry if any one had subscribed under a misapprehension, that it was no fault of his, for he had stated definitely and clearly his position, that he of course had no money wherewith himself to return what without his knowledge had been contributed, and that all he could say was that any man who had subscribed to his campaign fund under the impression that the receipt of the subscription would be a bar to the performance of public duty was sadly mistaken.
The control by Mr. Platt and his lieutenants over the organization was well-nigh complete. There were splits among the bosses, and insurgent movements now and then, but the ordinary citizens had no control over the political machinery except in a very few districts. There were, however, plenty of good men in politics, men who either came from districts where there was popular control, or who represented a genuine aspiration towards good citizenship on the part of some boss or group of bosses, or else who had been nominated frankly for reasons of expediency by bosses whose attitude towards good citizenship was at best one of Gallio-like indifference. At the time when I was nominated for Governor, as later when Mr. Hughes was nominated and renominated for Governor, there was no possibility of securing the nomination unless the bosses permitted it. In each case the bosses, the machine leaders, took a man for whom they did not care, because he was the only man with whom they could win. In the case of Mr. Hughes there was of course also the fact of pressure from the National Administration. But the bosses were never overcome in a fair fight, when they had made up their minds to fight, until the Saratoga Convention in 1910, when Mr. Stimson was nominated for Governor.
Senator Platt had the same inborn capacity for the kind of politics which he liked that many big Wall Street men have shown for not wholly dissimilar types of finance. It was his chief interest, and he applied himself to it unremittingly. He handled his private business successfully; but it was politics in which he was absorbed, and he concerned himself therewith every day in the year. He had built up an excellent system of organization, and the necessary funds came from corporations and men of wealth who contributed as I have described above. The majority of the men with a natural capacity for organization leadership of the type which has generally been prevalent in New York politics turned to Senator Platt as their natural chief and helped build up the organization, until under his leadership it became more powerful and in a position of greater control than any other Republican machine in the country, excepting in Pennsylvania. The Democratic machines in some of the big cities, as in New York and Boston, and the country Democratic machine of New York under David B. Hill, were probably even more efficient, representing an even more complete mastery by the bosses, and an even greater degree of drilled obedience among the henchmen. It would be an entire mistake to suppose that Mr. Platt's lieutenants were either all bad men or all influenced by unworthy motives. He was constantly doing favors for men. He had won the gratitude of many good men. In the country districts especially, there were many places where his machine included the majority of the best citizens, the leading and substantial citizens, among the inhabitants. Some of his strongest and most efficient lieutenants were disinterested men of high character.
There had always been a good deal of opposition to Mr. Platt and the machine, but the leadership of this opposition was apt to be found only among those whom Abraham Lincoln called the "silk stockings," and much of it excited almost as much derision among the plain people as the machine itself excited anger or dislike. Very many of Mr. Platt's opponents really disliked him and his methods, for æsthetic rather than for moral reasons, and the bulk of the people half-consciously felt this and refused to submit to their leadership. The men who opposed him in this manner were good citizens according to their lights, prominent in the social clubs and in philanthropic circles, men of means and often men of business standing. They disliked coarse and vulgar politicians, and they sincerely reprobated all the shortcomings that were recognized by, and were offensive to, people of their own caste. They had not the slightest understanding of the needs, interests, ways of thought, and convictions of the average small man; and the small man felt this, although he could not express it, and sensed that they were really not concerned with his welfare, and that they did not offer him anything materially better from his point of view than the machine.
When reformers of this type attempted to oppose Mr. Platt, they usually put up either some rather inefficient, well-meaning person, who bathed every day, and didn't steal, but whose only good point was "respectability," and who knew nothing of the great fundamental questions looming before us; or else they put up some big business man or corporation lawyer who was wedded to the gross wrong and injustice of our economic system, and who neither by personality nor by programme gave the ordinary plain people any belief that there was promise of vital good to them in the change. The correctness of their view was proved by the fact that as soon as fundamental economic and social reforms were at stake the æsthetic, as distinguished from the genuinely moral, reformers, for the most part sided with the bosses against the people.
When I became Governor, the conscience of the people was in no way or shape aroused, as it has since become roused. The people accepted and practiced in a matter-of-course way as quite proper things which they would not now tolerate. They had no definite and clearly outlined conception of what they wished in the way of reform. They on the whole tolerated, and indeed approved of, the machine; and there had been no development on any considerable scale of reformers with the vision to see what the needs of the people were, and the high purpose sanely to achieve what was necessary in order to meet these needs. I knew both the machine and the silk-stocking reformers fairly well, from many years' close association with them. The machine as such had no ideals at all, although many of the men composing it did have. On the other hand, the ideals of very many of the silk-stocking reformers did not relate to the questions of real and vital interest to our people; and, singularly enough, in international matters, these same silk-stockings were no more to be trusted than the average ignorant demagogue or shortsighted spoils politicians. I felt that these men would be broken reeds to which to trust in any vital contest for betterment of social and industrial conditions.
I had neither the training nor the capacity that would have enabled me to match Mr. Platt and his machine people on their own ground. Nor did I believe that the effort to build up a machine of my own under the then existing conditions would meet the needs of the situation so far as the people were concerned. I therefore made no effort to create a machine of my own, and consistently adopted the plan of going over the heads of the men holding public office and of the men in control of the organization, and appealing directly to the people behind them. The machine, for instance, had a more or less strong control over the great bulk of the members of the State Legislature; but in the last resort the people behind these legislators had a still greater control over them. I made up my mind that the only way I could beat the bosses whenever the need to do so arose (and unless there was such need I did not wish to try) was, not by attempting to manipulate the machinery, and not by trusting merely to the professional reformers, but by making my appeal as directly and as emphatically as I knew how to the mass of voters themselves, to the people, to the men who if waked up would be able to impose their will on their representatives. My success depended upon getting the people in the different districts to look at matters in my way, and getting them to take such an active interest in affairs as to enable them to exercise control over their representatives.
There were a few of the Senators and Assemblymen whom I could reach by seeing them personally and putting before them my arguments; but most of them were too much under the control of the machine for me to shake them loose unless they knew that the people were actively behind me. In making my appeal to the people as a whole I was dealing with an entirely different constituency from that which, especially in the big cities, liked to think of itself as the "better element," the particular exponent of reform and good citizenship. I was dealing with shrewd, hard-headed, kindly men and women, chiefly concerned with the absorbing work of earning their own living, and impatient of fads, who had grown to feel that the associations with the word "reformer" were not much better than the associations with the word "politician." I had to convince these men and women of my good faith, and, moreover, of my common sense and efficiency. They were most of them strong partisans, and an outrage had to be very real and very great to shake them even partially loose from their party affiliations. Moreover, they took little interest in any fight of mere personalities. They were not influenced in the least by the silk-stocking reform view of Mr. Platt. I knew that if they were persuaded that I was engaged in a mere faction fight against him, that it was a mere issue between his ambition and mine, they would at once become indifferent, and my fight would be lost.
But I felt that I could count on their support wherever I could show them that the fight was not made just for the sake of the row, that it was not made merely as a factional contest against Senator Platt and the organization, but was waged from a sense of duty for real and tangible causes such as the promotion of governmental efficiency and honesty, and forcing powerful moneyed men to take the proper attitude toward the community at large. They stood by me when I insisted upon having the canal department, the insurance department, and the various departments of the State Government run with efficiency and honesty; they stood by me when I insisted upon making wealthy men who owned franchises pay the State what they properly ought to pay; they stood by me when, in connection with the strikes on the Croton Aqueduct and in Buffalo, I promptly used the military power of the State to put a stop to rioting and violence.
In the latter case my chief opponents and critics were local politicians who were truckling to the labor vote; but in all cases coming under the first two categories I had serious trouble with the State leaders of the machine. I always did my best, in good faith, to get Mr. Platt and the other heads of the machine to accept my views, and to convince them, by repeated private conversations, that I was right. I never wantonly antagonized or humiliated them. I did not wish to humiliate them or to seem victorious over them; what I wished was to secure the things that I thought it essential to the men and women of the State to secure. If I could finally persuade them to support me, well and good; in such case I continued to work with them in the friendliest manner.
If after repeated and persistent effort I failed to get them to support me, then I made a fair fight in the open, and in a majority of cases I carried my point and succeeded in getting through the legislation which I wished. In theory the Executive has nothing to do with legislation. In practice, as things now are, the Executive is or ought to be peculiarly representative of the people as a whole. As often as not the action of the Executive offers the only means by which the people can get the legislation they demand and ought to have. Therefore a good executive under the present conditions of American political life must take a very active interest in getting the right kind of legislation, in addition to performing his executive duties with an eye single to the public welfare. More than half of my work as Governor was in the direction of getting needed and important legislation. I accomplished this only by arousing the people, and riveting their attention on what was done.
Gradually the people began to wake up more and more to the fact that the machine politicians were not giving them the kind of government which they wished. As this waking up grew more general, not merely in New York or any other one State, but throughout most of the Nation, the power of the bosses waned. Then a curious thing happened. The professional reformers who had most loudly criticized these bosses began to change toward them. Newspaper editors, college presidents, corporation lawyers, and big business men, all alike, had denounced the bosses and had taken part in reform movements against them so long as these reforms dealt only with things that were superficial, or with fundamental things that did not affect themselves and their associates. But the majority of these men turned to the support of the bosses when the great new movement began clearly to make itself evident as one against privilege in business no less than against privilege in politics, as one for social and industrial no less than for political righteousness and fair dealing. The big corporation lawyer who had antagonized the boss in matters which he regarded as purely political stood shoulder to shoulder with the boss when the movement for betterment took shape in direct attack on the combination of business with politics and with the judiciary which has done so much to enthrone privilege in the economic world.
The reformers who denounced political corruption and fraud when shown at the expense of their own candidates by machine ward heelers of a low type hysterically applauded similar corrupt trickery when practiced by these same politicians against men with whose political and industrial programme the reformers were not in sympathy. I had always been instinctively and by nature a democrat, but if I had needed conversion to the democratic ideal here in America the stimulus would have been supplied by what I saw of the attitude, not merely of the bulk of the men of greatest wealth, but of the bulk of the men who most prided themselves upon their education and culture, when we began in good faith to grapple with the wrong and injustice of our social and industrial system, and to hit at the men responsible for the wrong, no matter how high they stood in business or in politics, at the bar or on the bench. It was while I was Governor, and especially in connection with the franchise tax legislation, that I first became thoroughly aware of the real causes of this attitude among the men of great wealth and among the men who took their tone from the men of great wealth.
Very soon after my victory in the race for Governor I had one or two experiences with Senator Platt which showed in amusing fashion how absolute the rule of the boss was in the politics of that day. Senator Platt, who was always most kind and friendly in his personal relations with me, asked me in one day to talk over what was to be done at Albany. He had the two or three nominal heads of the organization with him. They were his lieutenants, who counseled and influenced him, whose advice he often followed, but who, when he had finally made up his mind, merely registered and carried out his decrees. After a little conversation the Senator asked if I had any member of the Assembly whom I wished to have put on any committee, explaining that the committees were being arranged. I answered no, and expressed my surprise at what he had said, because I had not understood the Speaker who appointed the committees had himself been agreed upon by the members-elect. "Oh!" responded the Senator, with a tolerant smile, "He has not been chosen yet, but of course whoever we choose as Speaker will agree beforehand to make the appointments we wish." I made a mental note to the effect that if they attempted the same process with the Governor-elect they would find themselves mistaken.
In a few days the opportunity to prove this arrived. Under the preceding Administration there had been grave scandals about the Erie Canal, the trans-State Canal, and these scandals had been one of the chief issues in the campaign for the Governorship. The construction of this work was under the control of the Superintendent of Public Works. In the actual state of affairs his office was by far the most important office under me, and I intended to appoint to it some man of high character and capacity who could be trusted to do the work not merely honestly and efficiently, but without regard to politics. A week or so after the Speakership incident Senator Platt asked me to come and see him (he was an old and physically feeble man, able to move about only with extreme difficulty).
On arrival I found the Lieutenant-Governor elect, Mr. Woodruff, who had also been asked to come. The Senator informed me that he was glad to say that I would have a most admirable man as Superintendent of Public Works, as he had just received a telegram from a certain gentleman, whom he named, saying that he would accept the position! He handed me the telegram. The man in question was a man I liked; later I appointed him to an important office in which he did well. But he came from a city along the line of the canal, so that I did not think it best that he should be appointed anyhow; and, moreover, what was far more important, it was necessary to have it understood at the very outset that the Administration was my Administration and was no one else's but mine. So I told the Senator very politely that I was sorry, but that I could not appoint his man. This produced an explosion, but I declined to lose my temper, merely repeating that I must decline to accept any man chosen for me, and that I must choose the man myself. Although I was very polite, I was also very firm, and Mr. Platt and his friends finally abandoned their position.
I appointed an engineer from Brooklyn, a veteran of the Civil War, Colonel Partridge, who had served in Mayor Low's administration. He was an excellent man in every way. He chose as his assistant, actively to superintend the work, a Cornell graduate named Elon Hooker, a man with no political backing at all, picked simply because he was the best equipped man for the place. The office, the most important office under me, was run in admirable fashion throughout my Administration; I doubt if there ever was an important department of the New York State Government run with a higher standard of efficiency and integrity.
But this was not all that had to be done about the canals. Evidently the whole policy hitherto pursued had been foolish and inadequate. I appointed a first-class non-partisan commission of business men and expert engineers who went into the matter exhaustively, and their report served as the basis upon which our entire present canal system is based. There remained the question of determining whether the canal officials who were in office before I became Governor, and whom I had declined to reappoint, had been guilty of any action because of which it would be possible to proceed against them criminally or otherwise under the law. Such criminal action had been freely charged against them during the campaign by the Democratic (including the so-called mugwump) press. To determine this matter I appointed two Democratic lawyers, Messrs. Fox and MacFarlane (the latter Federal District Attorney for New York under President Cleveland), and put the whole investigation in their hands. These gentlemen made an exhaustive investigation lasting several months. They reported that there had been grave delinquency in the prosecution of the work, delinquency which justified public condemnation of those responsible for it (who were out of office), but that there was no ground for criminal prosecution. I laid their report before the Legislature with a message in which I said: "There is probably no lawyer of high standing in the State who, after studying the report of counsel in this case and the testimony taken by the investigating commission, would disagree with them as to the impracticability of a successful prosecution. Under such circumstances the one remedy was a thorough change in the methods and management. This change has been made."
When my successor in the Governorship took office, Colonel Partridge retired, and Elon Hooker, finding that he could no longer act with entire disregard of politics and with an eye single to the efficiency of the work, also left. A dozen years laterhaving in the meantime made a marked success in a business careerhe became the Treasurer of the National Progressive party.
My action in regard to the canals, and the management of his office, the most important office under me, by Colonel Partridge, established my relations with Mr. Platt from the outset on pretty nearly the right basis. But, besides various small difficulties, we had one or two serious bits of trouble before my duties as Governor ceased. It must be remembered that Mr. Platt was to all intents and purposes a large part of, and sometimes a majority of, the Legislature. There were a few entirely independent men such as Nathaniel Elsberg, Regis Post, and Alford Cooley, in each of the two houses; the remainder were under the control of the Republican and Democratic bosses, but could also be more or less influenced by an aroused public opinion. The two machines were apt to make common cause if their vital interests were touched. It was my business to devise methods by which either the two machines could be kept apart or else overthrown if they came together.
My desire was to achieve results, and not merely to issue manifestoes of virtue. It is very easy to be efficient if the efficiency is based on unscrupulousness, and it is still easier to be virtuous if one is content with the purely negative virtue which consists in not doing anything wrong, but being wholly unable to accomplish anything positive for good. My favorite quotation from Josh Billings again applies: It is so much easier to be a harmless dove than a wise serpent. My duty was to combine both idealism and efficiency. At that time the public conscience was still dormant as regards many species of political and business misconduct, as to which during the next decade it became sensitive. I had to work with the tools at hand and to take into account the feeling of the people, which I have already described. My aim was persistently to refuse to be put in a position where what I did would seem to be a mere faction struggle against Senator Platt. My aim was to make a fight only when I could so manage it that there could be no question in the minds of honest men that my prime purpose was not to attack Mr. Platt or any one else except as a necessary incident to securing clean and efficient government.
In each case I did my best to persuade Mr. Platt not to oppose me. I endeavored to make it clear to him that I was not trying to wrest the organization from him; and I always gave him in detail the reasons why I felt I had to take the position I intended to adopt. It was only after I had exhausted all the resources of my patience that I would finally, if he still proved obstinate, tell him that I intended to make the fight anyhow. As I have said, the Senator was an old and feeble man in physique, and it was possible for him to go about very little. Until Friday evening he would be kept at his duties at Washington, while I was in Albany. If I wished to see him it generally had to be at his hotel in New York on Saturday, and usually I would go there to breakfast with him. The one thing I would not permit was anything in the nature of a secret or clandestine meeting. I always insisted on going openly. Solemn reformers of the tom-fool variety, who, according to their custom, paid attention to the name and not the thing, were much exercised over my "breakfasting with Platt." Whenever I breakfasted with him they became sure that the fact carried with it some sinister significance. The worthy creatures never took the trouble to follow the sequence of facts and events for themselves. If they had done so they would have seen that any series of breakfasts with Platt always meant that I was going to do something he did not like, and that I was trying, courteously and frankly, to reconcile him to it. My object was to make it as easy as possible for him to come with me. As long as there was no clash between us there was no object in my seeing him; it was only when the clash came or was imminent that I had to see him. A series of breakfasts was always the prelude to some active warfare. 3 In every instance I substantially carried my point, although in some cases not in exactly the way in which I had originally hoped.
There were various measures to which he gave a grudging and querulous assent without any break being threatened. I secured the reënactment of the Civil Service Law, which under my predecessor had very foolishly been repealed. I secured a mass of labor legislation, including the enactment of laws to increase the number of factory inspectors, to create a Tenement-House Commission (whose findings resulted in further and excellent legislation to improve housing conditions), to regulate and improve sweatshop labor, to make the eight-hour and prevailing rate of wages law effective, to secure the genuine enforcement of the act relating to the hours of railway workers, to compel railways to equip freight trains with air-brakes, to regulate the working hours of women and protect both women and children from dangerous machinery, to enforce good scaffolding provisions for workmen on buildings, to provide seats for the use of waitresses in hotels and restaurants, to reduce the hours of labor for drug-store clerks, to provide for the registration of laborers for municipal employment. I tried hard but failed to secure an employers' liability law and the state control of employment offices. There was hard fighting over some of these bills, and, what was much more serious, there was effort to get round the law by trickery and by securing its inefficient enforcement. I was continually helped by men with whom I had gotten in touch while in the Police Department; men such as James Bronson Reynolds, through whom I first became interested in settlement work on the East Side. Once or twice I went suddenly down to New York City without warning any one and traversed the tenement-house quarters, visiting various sweat-shops picked at random. Jake Riis accompanied me; and as a result of our inspection we got not only an improvement in the law but a still more marked improvement in its administration. Thanks chiefly to the activity and good sense of Dr. John H. Pryor, of Buffalo, and by the use of every pound of pressure which as Governor I could bring to bear in legitimate fashionincluding a special emergency messagewe succeeded in getting through a bill providing for the first State hospital for incipient tuberculosis. We got valuable laws for the farmer; laws preventing the adulteration of food products (which laws were equally valuable to the consumer), and laws helping the dairyman. In addition to labor legislation I was able to do a good deal for forest preservation and the protection of our wild life. All that later I strove for in the Nation in connection with Conservation was foreshadowed by what I strove to obtain for New York State when I was Governor; and I was already working in connection with Gifford Pinchot and Newell. I secured better administration, and some improvement in the laws themselves. The improvement in administration, and in the character of the game and forest wardens, was secured partly as the result of a conference in the executive chamber which I held with forty of the best guides and woodsmen of the Adirondacks.
As regards most legislation, even that affecting labor and the forests, I got on fairly well with the machine. But on the two issues in which "big business" and the kind of politics which is allied to big business were most involved we clashed hardand clashing with Senator Platt meant clashing with the entire Republican organization, and with the organized majority in each house of the Legislature. One clash was in connection with the Superintendent of Insurance, a man whose office made him a factor of immense importance in the big business circles of New York. The then incumbent of the office was an efficient man, the boss of an up-State county, a veteran politician and one of Mr. Platt's right-hand men. Certain investigations which I madein the course of the fightshowed that this Superintendent of Insurance had been engaged in large business operations in New York City. These operations had thrown him into a peculiarly intimate business contact of one sort and another with various financiers with whom I did not deem it expedient that the Superintendent of Insurance, while such, should have any intimate and secret money-making relations. Moreover, the gentleman in question represented the straitest sect of the old-time spoils politicians. I therefore determined not to reappoint him. Unless I could get his successor confirmed, however, he would stay in under the law, and the Republican machine, with the assistance of Tammany, expected to control far more than a majority of all the Senators.
Mr. Platt issued an ultimatum to me that the incumbent must be reappointed or else that he would fight, and that if he chose to fight the man would stay in anyhow because I could not oust himfor under the New York Constitution the assent of the Senate was necessary not only to appoint a man to office but to remove him from office. As always with Mr. Platt, I persistently refused to lose my temper, no matter what he saidhe was much too old and physically feeble for there to be any point of honor in taking up any of his remarksand I merely explained good-humoredly that I had made up my mind and that the gentleman in question would not be retained. As for not being able to get his successor confirmed, I pointed out that as soon as the Legislature adjourned I could and would appoint another man temporarily. Mr. Platt then said that the incumbent would be put back as soon as the Legislature reconvened; I admitted that this was possible, but added cheerfully that I would remove him again just as soon as that Legislature adjourned, and that even though I had an uncomfortable time myself, I would guarantee to make my opponents more uncomfortable still. We parted without any sign of reaching an agreement.
There remained some weeks before final action could be taken, and the Senator was confident that I would have to yield. His most efficient allies were the pretended reformers, most of them my open or covert enemies, who loudly insisted that I must make an open fight on the Senator himself and on the Republican organization. This was what he wished, for at that time there was no way of upsetting him within the Republican party; and, as I have said, if I had permitted the contest to assume the shape of a mere faction fight between the Governor and the United States Senator, I would have insured the victory of the machine. So I blandly refused to let the thing become a personal fight, explaining again and again that I was perfectly willing to appoint an organization man, and naming two or three whom I was willing to appoint, but also explaining that I would not retain the incumbent, and would not appoint any man of his type. Meanwhile pressure on behalf of the said incumbent began to come from the business men of New York.
The Superintendent of Insurance was not a man whose ill will the big life insurance companies cared to incur, and company after company passed resolutions asking me to reappoint him, although in private some of the men who signed these resolutions nervously explained that they did not mean what they had written, and hoped I would remove the man. A citizen prominent in reform circles, marked by the Cato-like austerity of his reform professions, had a son who was a counsel for one of the insurance companies. The father was engaged in writing letters to the papers demanding in the name of uncompromising virtue that I should not only get rid of the Superintendent of Insurance, but in his place should appoint somebody or other personally offensive to Senator Plattwhich last proposition, if adopted, would have meant that the Superintendent of Insurance would have stayed in, for the reasons I have already given. Meanwhile the son came to see me on behalf of the insurance company he represented and told me that the company was anxious that there should be a change in the superintendency; that if I really meant to fight, they thought they had influence with four of the State Senators, Democrats and Republicans, whom they could get to vote to confirm the man I nominated, but that they wished to be sure that I would not abandon the fight, because it would be a very bad thing for them if I started the fight and then backed down. I told my visitor that he need be under no apprehensions, that I would certainly see the fight through. A man who has much to do with that kind of politics which concerns both New York politicians and New York business men and lawyers is not easily surprised, and therefore I felt no other emotion than a rather sardonic amusement when thirty-six hours later I read in the morning paper an open letter from the officials of the very company who had been communicating with me in which they enthusiastically advocated the renomination of the Superintendent. Shortly afterwards my visitor, the young lawyer, called me up on the telephone and explained that the officials did not mean what they had said in this letter, that they had been obliged to write it for fear of the Superintendent, but that if they got the chance they intended to help me get rid of him. I thanked him and said I thought I could manage the fight by myself. I did not hear from him again, though his father continued to write public demands that I should practice pure virtue, undefiled and offensive.
Meanwhile Senator Platt declined to yield. I had picked out a man, a friend of his, who I believed would make an honest and competent official, and whose position in the organization was such that I did not believe the Senate would venture to reject him. However, up to the day before the appointment was to go to the Senate, Mr. Platt remained unyielding. I saw him that afternoon and tried to get him to yield, but he said No, that if I insisted, it would be war to the knife, and my destruction, and perhaps the destruction of the party. I said I was very sorry, that I could not yield, and if the war came it would have to come, and that next morning I should send in the name of the Superintendent's successor. We parted, and soon afterwards I received from the man who was at the moment Mr. Platt's right-hand lieutenant a request to know where he could see me that evening. I appointed the Union League Club. My visitor went over the old ground, explained that the Senator would under no circumstances yield, that he was certain to win in the fight, that my reputation would be destroyed, and that he wished to save me from such a lamentable smash-up as an ending to my career. I could only repeat what I had already said, and after half an hour of futile argument I rose and said that nothing was to be gained by further talk and that I might as well go. My visitor repeated that I had this last chance, and that ruin was ahead of me if I refused it; whereas, if I accepted, everything would be made easy. I shook my head and answered, "There is nothing to add to what I have already said." He responded, "You have made up your mind?" and I said, "I have." He then said, "You know it means your ruin?" and I answered, "Well, we will see about that," and walked toward the door. He said, "You understand, the fight will begin to-morrow and will be carried on to the bitter end." I said, "Yes," and added, as I reached the door, "Good night." Then, as the door opened, my opponent, or visitor, whichever one chooses to call him, whose face was as impassive and as inscrutable as that of Mr. John Hamlin in a poker game, said: "Hold on! We accept. Send in So-and-so [the man I had named]. The Senator is very sorry, but he will make no further opposition!" I never saw a bluff carried more resolutely through to the final limit. My success in the affair, coupled with the appointment of Messrs. Partridge and Hooker, secured me against further effort to interfere with my handling of the executive departments.
It was in connection with the insurance business that I first met Mr. George W. Perkins. He came to me with a letter of introduction from the then Speaker of the National House of Representatives, Tom Reed, which ran: "Mr. Perkins is a personal friend of mine, whose straightforwardness and intelligence will commend to you whatever he has to say. If you will give him proper opportunity to explain his business, I have no doubt that what he will say will be worthy of your attention." Mr. Perkins wished to see me with reference to a bill that had just been introduced in the Legislature, which aimed to limit the aggregate volume of insurance that any New York State company could assume. There were then three big insurance companies in New Yorkthe Mutual Life, Equitable, and New York Life. Mr. Perkins was a Vice-President of the New York Life Insurance Company and Mr. John A. McCall was its President. I had just finished my fight against the Superintendent of Insurance, whom I refused to continue in office. Mr. McCall had written me a very strong letter urging that he be retained, and had done everything he could to aid Senator Platt in securing his retention. The Mutual Life and Equitable people had openly followed the same course, but in private had hedged. They were both backing the proposed bill. Mr. McCall was opposed to it; he was in California, and just before starting thither he had been told by the Mutual Life and Equitable that the Limitation Bill was favored by me and would be put through if such a thing were possible. Mr. McCall did not know me, and on leaving for California told Mr. Perkins that from all he could learn he was sure I was bent on putting this bill through, and that nothing he could say to me would change my view; in fact, because he had fought so hard to retain the old Insurance Superintendent, he felt that I would be particularly opposed to anything he might wish done.
As a matter of fact, I had no such feeling. I had been carefully studying the question. I had talked with the Mutual Life and Equitable people about it, but was not committed to any particular course, and had grave doubts as to whether it was well to draw the line on size instead of on conduct. I was therefore very glad to see Perkins and get a new point of view. I went over the matter with a great deal of care and at considerable length, and after we had thrashed the matter out pretty fully and Perkins had laid before me in detail the methods employed by Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and other European countries to handle their large insurance companies, I took the position that there undoubtedly were evils in the insurance business, but that they did not consist in insuring people's lives, for that certainly was not an evil; and I did not see how the real evils could be eradicated by limiting or suppressing a company's ability to protect an additional number of lives with insurance. I therefore announced that I would not favor a bill that limited volume of business, and would not sign it if it were passed; but that I favored legislation that would make it impossible to place, through agents, policies that were ambiguous and misleading, or to pay exorbitant prices to agents for business, or to invest policy-holders' money in improper securities, or to give power to officers to use the company's funds for their own personal profit. In reaching this determination I was helped by Mr. Loeb, then merely a stenographer in my office, but who had already attracted my attention both by his efficiency and by his loyalty to his former employers, who were for the most part my political opponents. Mr. Loeb gave me much information about various improper practices in the insurance business. I began to gather data on the subject, with the intention of bringing about corrective legislation, for at that time I expected to continue in office as Governor. But in a few weeks I was nominated as Vice-President, and my successor did nothing about the matter.
So far as I remember, this was the first time the question of correcting evils in a business by limiting the volume of business to be done was ever presented to me, and my decision in the matter was on all fours with the position I have always since taken when any similar principle was involved. At the time when I made my decision about the Limitation Bill, I was on friendly terms with the Mutual and Equitable people who were back of it, whereas I did not know Mr. McCall at all, and Mr. Perkins only from hearing him discuss the bill.
An interesting feature of the matter developed subsequently. Five years later, after the insurance investigations took place, the Mutual Life strongly urged the passage of a Limitation Bill, and, because of the popular feeling developed by the exposure of the improper practices of the companies, this bill was generally approved. Governor Hughes adopted the suggestion, such a bill was passed by the Legislature, and Governor Hughes signed it. This bill caused the three great New York companies to reduce markedly the volume of business they were doing; it threw a great many agents out of employment, and materially curtailed the foreign business of the companieswhich business was bringing annually a considerable sum of money to this country for investment. In short, the experiment worked so badly that before Governor Hughes went out of office one of the very last bills he signed was one that permitted the life insurance companies to increase their business each year by an amount representing a certain percentage of the business they had previously done. This in practice, within a few years, practically annulled the Limitation Bill that had been previously passed. The experiment of limiting the size of business, of legislating against it merely because it was big, had been tried, and had failed so completely that the authors of the bill had themselves in effect repealed it. My action in refusing to try the experiment had been completely justified.
As a sequel to this incident I got Mr. Perkins to serve on the Palisade Park Commission. At the time I was taking active part in the effort to save the Palisades from vandalism and destruction by getting the States of New York and New Jersey jointly to include them in a public park. It is not easy to get a responsible and capable man of business to undertake such a task, which is unpaid, which calls on his part for an immense expenditure of time, money, and energy, which offers no reward of any kind, and which entails the certainty of abuse and misrepresentation. Mr. Perkins accepted the position, and has filled it for the last thirteen years, doing as disinterested, efficient, and useful a bit of public service as any man in the State has done throughout these thirteen years.
The case of most importance in which I clashed with Senator Platt related to a matter of fundamental governmental policy, and was the first step I ever took toward bringing big corporations under effective governmental control. In this case I had to fight the Democratic machine as well as the Republican machine, for Senator Hill and Senator Platt were equally opposed to my action, and the big corporation men, the big business men back of both of them, took precisely the same view of these matters without regard to their party feelings on other points. What I did convulsed people at that time, and marked the beginning of the effort, at least in the Eastern states, to make the great corporations really responsible to popular wish and governmental command. But we have gone so far past the stage in which we then were that now it seems well-nigh incredible that there should have been any opposition at all to what I at that time proposed.
The substitution of electric power for horse power in the street car lines of New York offered a fruitful chance for the most noxious type of dealing between business men and politicians. The franchises granted by New York were granted without any attempt to secure from the grantees returns, in the way of taxation or otherwise, for the value received. The fact that they were thus granted by improper favoritism, a favoritism which in many cases was unquestionably secured by downright bribery, led to all kinds of trouble. In return for the continuance of these improper favors to the corporations the politicians expected improper favors in the way of excessive campaign contributions, often contributed by the same corporation at the same time to two opposing parties. Before I became Governor a bill had been introduced into the New York Legislature to tax the franchises of these street railways. It affected a large number of corporations, but particularly those in New York and Buffalo. It had been suffered to slumber undisturbed, as none of the people in power dreamed of taking it seriously, and both the Republican and Democratic machines were hostile to it. Under the rules of the New York Legislature a bill could always be taken up out of its turn and passed if the Governor sent in a special emergency message on its behalf.
After I was elected Governor I had my attention directed to the franchise tax matter, looked into the subject, and came to the conclusion that it was a matter of plain decency and honesty that these companies should pay a tax on their franchises, inasmuch as they did nothing that could be considered as service rendered the public in lieu of a tax. This seemed to me so evidently the common-sense and decent thing to do that I was hardly prepared for the storm of protest and anger which my proposal aroused. Senator Platt and the other machine leaders did everything to get me to abandon my intention. As usual, I saw them, talked the matter all over with them, and did my best to convert them to my way of thinking. Senator Platt, I believe, was quite sincere in his opposition. He did not believe in popular rule, and he did believe that the big business men were entitled to have things their way. He profoundly distrusted the peoplenaturally enough, for the kind of human nature with which a boss comes in contact is not of an exalted type. He felt that anarchy would come if there was any interference with a system by which the people in mass were, under various necessary cloaks, controlled by the leaders in the political and business worlds. He wrote me a very strong letter of protest against my attitude, expressed in dignified, friendly, and temperate language, but using one word in a curious way. This was the word "altruistic." He stated in his letter that he had not objected to my being independent in politics, because he had been sure that I had the good of the party at heart, and meant to act fairly and honorably; but that he had been warned, before I became a candidate, by a number of his business friends that I was a dangerous man because I was "altruistic," and that he now feared that my conduct would justify the alarm thus expressed. I was interested in this, not only because Senator Platt was obviously sincere, but because of the way in which he used "altruistic" as a term of reproach, as if it was Communistic or Socialisticthe last being a word he did use to me when, as now and then happened, he thought that my proposals warranted fairly reckless vituperation.
"When the subject of your nomination was under consideration, there was one matter that gave me real anxiety. I think you will have no trouble in appreciating the fact that it was not the matter of your independence. I think we have got far enough along in our political acquaintance for you to see that my support in a convention does not imply subsequent 'demands,' nor any other relation that may not reasonably exist for the welfare of the party.... The thing that did bother me was this: I had heard from a good many sources that you were a little loose on the relations of capital and labor, on trusts and combinations, and, indeed, on those numerous questions which have recently arisen in politics affecting the security of earnings and the right of a man to run his own business in his own way, with due respect of course to the Ten Commandments and the Penal Code. Or, to get at it even more clearly, I understood from a number of business men, and among them many of your own personal friends, that you entertained various altruistic ideas, all very well in their way, but which before they could safely be put into law needed very profound consideration.... You have just adjourned a Legislature which created a good opinion throughout the State. I congratulate you heartily upon this fact because I sincerely believe, as everybody else does, that this good impression exists very largely as a result of your personal influence in the Legislative chambers. But at the last moment, and to my very great surprise, you did a thing which has caused the business community of New York to wonder how far the notions of Populism, as laid down in Kansas and Nebraska, have taken hold upon the Republican party of the State of New York."
In my answer I pointed out to the Senator that I had as Governor unhesitatingly acted, at Buffalo and elsewhere, to put down mobs, without regard to the fact that the professed leaders of labor furiously denounced me for so doing; but that I could no more tolerate wrong committed in the name of property than wrong committed against property. My letter ran in part as follows: "I knew that you had just the feelings that you describe; that is, apart from my 'impulsiveness,' you felt that there was a justifiable anxiety among men of means, and especially men representing large corporate interests, lest I might feel too strongly on what you term the 'altruistic' side in matters of labor and capital and as regards the relations of the State to great corporations.... I know that when parties divide on such issues [as Bryanism] the tendency is to force everybody into one of two camps, and to throw out entirely men like myself, who are as strongly opposed to Populism in every stage as the greatest representative of corporate wealth, but who also feel strongly that many of these representatives of enormous corporate wealth have themselves been responsible for a portion of the conditions against which Bryanism is in ignorant revolt. I do not believe that it is wise or safe for us as a party to take refuge in mere negation and to say that there are no evils to be corrected. It seems to me that our attitude should be one of correcting the evils and thereby showing that, whereas the Populists, Socialists, and others really do not correct the evils at all, or else only do so at the expense of producing others in aggravated form; on the contrary we Republicans hold the just balance and set ourselves as resolutely against improper corporate influence on the one hand as against demagogy and mob rule on the other. I understand perfectly that such an attitude of moderation is apt to be misunderstood when passions are greatly excited and when victory is apt to rest with the extremists on one side or the other; yet I think it is in the long run the only wise attitude.... I appreciate absolutely [what Mr. Platt had said] that any applause I get will be too evanescent for a moment's consideration. I appreciate absolutely that the people who now loudly approve of my action in the franchise tax bill will forget all about it in a fortnight, and that, on the other hand, the very powerful interests adversely affected will always remember it.... [The leaders] urged upon me that I personally could not afford to take this action, for under no circumstances could I ever again be nominated for any public office, as no corporation would subscribe to a campaign fund if I was on the ticket, and that they would subscribe most heavily to beat me; and when I asked if this were true of Republican corporations, the cynical answer was made that the corporations that subscribed most heavily to the campaign funds subscribed impartially to both party organizations. Under all these circumstances, it seemed to me there was no alternative but to do what I could to secure the passage of the bill."
These two letters, written in the spring of 1899, express clearly the views of the two elements of the Republican party, whose hostility gradually grew until it culminated, thirteen years later. In 1912 the political and financial forces of which Mr. Platt had once been the spokesman, usurped the control of the party machinery and drove out of the party the men who were loyally endeavoring to apply the principles of the founders of the party to the needs and issues of their own day.
I had made up my mind that if I could get a show in the Legislature the bill would pass, because the people had become interested and the representatives would scarcely dare to vote the wrong way. Accordingly, on April 27, 1899, I sent a special message to the Assembly, certifying that the emergency demanded the immediate passage of the bill. The machine leaders were bitterly angry, and the Speaker actually tore up the message without reading it to the Assembly. That night they were busy trying to arrange some device for the defeat of the billwhich was not difficult, as the session was about to close. At seven the next morning I was informed of what had occurred. At eight I was in the Capitol at the Executive chamber, and sent in another special message, which opened as follows: "I learn that the emergency message which I sent last evening to the Assembly on behalf of the Franchise Tax Bill has not been read. I therefore send hereby another message on the subject. I need not impress upon the Assembly the need of passing this bill at once." I sent this message to the Assembly, by my secretary, William J. Youngs, afterwards United States District Attorney of Kings, with an intimation that if this were not promptly read I should come up in person and read it. Then, as so often happens, the opposition collapsed and the bill went through both houses with a rush. I had in the House stanch friends, such as Regis Post and Alford Cooley, men of character and courage, who would have fought to a finish had the need arisen.
My troubles were not at an end, however. The bill put the taxation in the hands of the local county boards, and as the railways sometimes passed through several different counties, this was inadvisable. It was the end of the session, and the Legislature adjourned. The corporations affected, through various counsel, and the different party leaders of both organizations, urged me not to sign the bill, laying especial stress on this feature, and asking that I wait until the following year, when a good measure could be put through with this obnoxious feature struck out. I had thirty days under the law in which to sign the bill. If I did not sign it by the end of that time it would not become a law. I answered my political and corporation friends by telling them that I agreed with them that this feature was wrong, but that I would rather have the bill with this feature than not have it at all; and that I was not willing to trust to what might be done a year later. Therefore, I explained, I would reconvene the Legislature in special session, and if the legislators chose to amend the bill by placing the power of taxation in the State instead of in the county or municipality, I would be glad; but that if they failed to amend it, or amended it improperly, I would sign the original bill and let it become law as it was.
When the representatives of Mr. Platt and of the corporations affected found they could do no better, they assented to this proposition. Efforts were tentatively made to outwit me, by inserting amendments that would nullify the effect of the law, or by withdrawing the law when the Legislature convened; which would at once have deprived me of the whip hand. On May 12 I wrote Senator Platt, outlining the amendments I desired, and said: "Of course it must be understood that I will sign the present bill if the proposed bill containing the changes outlined above fails to pass." On May 18 I notified the Senate leader, John Raines, by telegram: "Legislature has no power to withdraw the Ford bill. If attempt is made to do so, I will sign the bill at once." On the same day, by telegram, I wired Mr. Odell concerning the bill the leaders were preparing: "Some provisions of bill very objectionable. I am at work on bill to show you to-morrow. The bill must not contain greater changes than those outlined in my message." My wishes were heeded, and when I had reconvened the Legislature it amended the bill as I outlined in my message; and in its amended form the bill became law.
There promptly followed something which afforded an index of the good faith of the corporations that had been protesting to me. As soon as the change for which they had begged was inserted in the law, and the law was signed, they turned round and refused to pay the taxes; and in the lawsuit that followed, they claimed that the law was unconstitutional, because it contained the very clause which they had so clamorously demanded. Senator David B. Hill had appeared before me on behalf of the corporations to argue for the change; and he then appeared before the courts to make the argument on the other side. The suit was carried through to the Supreme Court of the United States, which declared the law constitutional during the time that I was President.
One of the painful duties of the chief executive in States like New York, as well as in the Nation, is the refusing of pardons. Yet I can imagine nothing more necessary from the standpoint of good citizenship than the ability to steel one's heart in this matter of granting pardons. The pressure is always greatest in two classes of cases: first, that where capital punishment is inflicted; second, that where the man is prominent socially and in the business world, and where in consequence his crime is apt to have been one concerned in some way with finance.
As regards capital cases, the trouble is that emotional men and women always see only the individual whose fate is up at the moment, and neither his victim nor the many millions of unknown individuals who would in the long run be harmed by what they ask. Moreover, almost any criminal, however brutal, has usually some person, often a person whom he has greatly wronged, who will plead for him. If the mother is alive she will always come, and she cannot help feeling that the case in which she is so concerned is peculiar, that in this case a pardon should be granted. It was really heartrending to have to see the kinsfolk and friends of murderers who were condemned to death, and among the very rare occasions when anything governmental or official caused me to lose sleep were the times when I had to listen to some poor mother making a plea for a criminal so wicked, so utterly brutal and depraved, that it would have been a crime on my part to remit his punishment.
On the other hand, there were certain crimes where requests for leniency merely made me angry. Such crimes were, for instance, rape, or the circulation of indecent literature, or anything connected with what would now be called the "white slave" traffic, or wife murder, or gross cruelty to women and children, or seduction and abandonment, or the action of some man in getting a girl whom he had seduced to commit abortion. I am speaking in each instance of cases that actually came before me, either while I was Governor or while I was President. In an astonishing number of these cases men of high standing signed petitions or wrote letters asking me to show leniency to the criminal. In two or three of the casesone where some young roughs had committed rape on a helpless immigrant girl, and another in which a physician of wealth and high standing had seduced a girl and then induced her to commit abortionI rather lost my temper, and wrote to the individuals who had asked for the pardon, saying that I extremely regretted that it was not in my power to increase the sentence. I then let the facts be made public, for I thought that my petitioners deserved public censure. Whether they received this public censure or not I did not know, but that my action made them very angry I do know, and their anger gave me real satisfaction. The list of these petitioners was a fairly long one, and included two United States Senators, a Governor of a State, two judges, an editor, and some eminent lawyers and business men.
In the class of cases where the offense was one involving the misuse of large sums of money the reason for the pressure was different. Cases of this kind more frequently came before me when I was President, but they also came before me when I was Governor, chiefly in the cases of county treasurers who had embezzled funds. A big bank president, a railway magnate, an official connected with some big corporation, or a Government official in a responsible fiduciary position, necessarily belongs among the men who have succeeded in life. This means that his family are living in comfort, and perhaps luxury and refinement, and that his sons and daughters have been well educated. In such a case the misdeed of the father comes as a crushing disaster to the wife and children, and the people of the community, however bitter originally against the man, grow to feel the most intense sympathy for the bowed-down women and children who suffer for the man's fault. It is a dreadful thing in life that so much of atonement for wrong-doing is vicarious. If it were possible in such a case to think only of the banker's or county treasurer's wife and children, any man would pardon the offender at once. Unfortunately, it is not right to think only of the women and children. The very fact that in cases of this class there is certain to be pressure from high sources, pressure sometimes by men who have been beneficially, even though remotely, interested in the man's criminality, no less than pressure because of honest sympathy with the wife and children, makes it necessary that the good public servant shall, no matter how deep his sympathy and regret, steel his heart and do his duty by refusing to let the wrong-doer out. My experience of the way in which pardons are often granted is one of the reasons why I do not believe that life imprisonment for murder and rape is a proper substitute for the death penalty. The average term of so-called life imprisonment in this country is only about fourteen years.
Of course there were cases where I either commuted sentences or pardoned offenders with very real pleasure. For instance, when President, I frequently commuted sentences for horse stealing in the Indian Territory because the penalty for stealing a horse was disproportionate to the penalty for many other crimes, and the offense was usually committed by some ignorant young fellow who found a half-wild horse, and really did not commit anything like as serious an offense as the penalty indicated. The judges would be obliged to give the minimum penalty, but would forward me memoranda stating that if there had been a less penalty they would have inflicted it, and I would then commute the sentence to the penalty thus indicated.
In one case in New York I pardoned outright a man convicted of murder in the second degree, and I did this on the recommendation of a friend, Father Doyle of the Paulist Fathers. I had become intimate with the Paulist Fathers while I was Police Commissioner, and I had grown to feel confidence in their judgment, for I had found that they always told me exactly what the facts were about any man, whether he belonged to their church or not. In this case the convicted man was a strongly built, respectable old Irishman employed as a watchman around some big cattle-killing establishments. The young roughs of the neighborhood, which was then of a rather lawless type, used to try to destroy the property of the companies. In a conflict with a watchman a member of one of the gangs was slain. The watchman was acquitted, but the neighborhood was much wrought up over the acquittal. Shortly afterwards, a gang of the same roughs attacked another watchman, the old Irishman in question, and finally, to save his own life, he was obliged in self-defense to kill one of his assailants. The feeling in the community, however, was strongly against him, and some of the men high up in the corporation became frightened and thought that it would be better to throw over the watchman. He was convicted. Father Doyle came to me, told me that he knew the man well, that he was one of the best members of his church, admirable in every way, that he had simply been forced to fight for his life while loyally doing his duty, and that the conviction represented the triumph of the tough element of the district and the abandonment of this man, by those who should have stood by him, under the influence of an unworthy fear. I looked into the case, came to the conclusion that Father Doyle was right, and gave the man a full pardon before he had served thirty days.
The various clashes between myself and the machine, my triumph in them, and the fact that the people were getting more and more interested and aroused, brought on a curious situation in the Republican National Convention at Philadelphia in June, 1900. Senator Platt and the New York machine leaders had become very anxious to get me out of the Governorship, chiefly because of the hostility of the big corporation men towards me; but they had also become convinced that there was such popular feeling on my behalf that it would be difficult to refuse me a renomination if I demanded it. They accordingly decided to push me for Vice-President, taking advantage of the fact that there was at that time a good deal of feeling for me in the country at large. 4 I myself did not appreciate that there was any such feeling, and as I greatly disliked the office of Vice-President and was much interested in the Governorship, I announced that I would not accept the Vice-Presidency. I was one of the delegates to Philadelphia. On reaching there I found that the situation was complicated. Senator Hanna appeared on the surface to have control of the Convention. He was anxious that I should not be nominated as Vice-President. Senator Platt was anxious that I should be nominated as Vice-President, in order to get me out of the New York Governorship. Each took a position opposite to that of the other, but each at that time cordially sympathized with the other's feelings about meit was the manifestations and not the feelings that differed. My supporters in New York State did not wish me nominated for Vice-President because they wished me to continue as Governor; but in every other State all the people who admired me were bound that I should be nominated as Vice-President. These people were almost all desirous of seeing Mr. McKinley renominated as President, but they became angry at Senator Hanna's opposition to me as Vice-President. He in his turn suddenly became aware that if he persisted he might find that in their anger these men would oppose Mr. McKinley's renomination, and although they could not have prevented the nomination, such opposition would have been a serious blow in the campaign which was to follow. Senator Hanna, therefore, began to waver.
Meanwhile a meeting of the New York delegation was called. Most of the delegates were under the control of Senator Platt. The Senator notified me that if I refused to accept the nomination for Vice-President I would be beaten for the nomination for Governor. I answered that I would accept the challenge, that we would have a straight-out fight on the proposition, and that I would begin it at once by telling the assembled delegates of the threat, and giving fair warning that I intended to fight for the Governorship nomination, and, moreover, that I intended to get it. This brought Senator Platt to terms. The effort to instruct the New York delegation for me was abandoned, and Lieutenant-Governor Woodruff was presented for nomination in my place.
I supposed that this closed the incident, and that no further effort would be made to nominate me for the Vice-Presidency. On the contrary, the effect was directly the reverse. The upset of the New York machine increased the feeling of the delegates from other States that it was necessary to draft me for the nomination. By next day Senator Hanna himself concluded that this was a necessity, and acquiesced in the movement. As New York was already committed against me, and as I was not willing that there should be any chance of supposing that the New Yorkers had nominated me to get rid of me, the result was that I was nominated and seconded from outside States. No other candidate was placed in the field.
By this time the Legislature had adjourned, and most of my work as Governor of New York was over. One unexpected bit of business arose, however. It was the year of the Presidential campaign. Tammany, which had been lukewarm about Bryan in 1896, cordially supported him in 1900; and when Tammany heartily supports a candidate it is well for the opposing candidate to keep a sharp lookout for election frauds. The city government was in the hands of Tammany; but I had power to remove the Mayor, the Sheriff, and the District Attorney for malfeasance or misfeasance in office. Such power had not been exercised by any previous Governor, as far as I knew; but it existed, and if the misfeasance or malfeasance warranted it, and if the Governor possessed the requisite determination, the power could be, and ought to be, exercised.
By an Act of the Legislature, a State Bureau of Elections had been created in New York City, and a Superintendent of Elections appointed by the Governor. The Chief of the State Bureau of Elections was John McCullagh, formerly in the Police Department when I was Police Commissioner. The Chief of Police for the city was William F. Devery, one of the Tammany leaders, who represented in the Police Department all that I had warred against while Commissioner. On November 4 Devery directed his subordinates in the Police Department to disregard the orders which McCullagh had given to his deputies, orders which were essential if we were to secure an honest election in the city. I had just returned from a Western campaign trip, and was at Sagamore Hill. I had no direct power over Devery; but the Mayor had; and I had power over the Mayor. Accordingly, I at once wrote to the Mayor of New York, to the Sheriff of New York, and to the District Attorney of New York County the following letters:
To the Mayor of the City of New York. Sir: My attention has been called to the official order issued by Chief of Police Devery, in which he directs his subordinates to disregard the Chief of the State Election Bureau, John McCullagh, and his deputies. Unless you have already taken steps to secure the recall of this order, it is necessary for me to point out that I shall be obliged to hold you responsible as the head of the city government for the action of the Chief of Police, if it should result in any breach of the peace and intimidation or any crime whatever against the election laws. The State and city authorities should work together. I will not fail to call to summary account either State or city authority in the event of either being guilty of intimidation or connivance at fraud or of failure to protect every legal voter in his rights. I therefore hereby notify you that in the event of any wrong-doing following upon the failure immediately to recall Chief Devery's order, or upon any action or inaction on the part of Chief Devery, I must necessarily call you to account.
To the Sheriff of the County of New York. Sir: My attention has been called to the official order issued by Chief of Police Devery in which he directs his subordinates to disregard the Chief of the State Election Bureau, John McCullagh, and his deputies.
It is your duty to assist in the orderly enforcement of the law, and I shall hold you strictly responsible for any breach of the public peace within your county, or for any failure on your part to do your full duty in connection with the election to-morrow.
To the District Attorney of the County of New York. Sir: My attention has been called to the official order issued by Chief of Police Devery, in which he directs his subordinates to disregard the Chief of the State Election Bureau, John McCullagh, and his deputies.
In view of this order I call your attention to the fact that it is your duty to assist in the orderly enforcement of the law, and there must be no failure on your part to do your full duty in the matter.
These letters had the desired effect. The Mayor promptly required Chief Devery to rescind the obnoxious order, which was as promptly done. The Sheriff also took prompt action. The District Attorney refused to heed my letter, and assumed an attitude of defiance, and I removed him from office. On election day there was no clash between the city and State authorities; the election was orderly and honest.
In a letter to me Mr. Quigg states, what I had forgotten, that I told him to tell the Senator that while I would talk freely with him, and had no intention of becoming a factional leader with a personal organization, yet that I must have direct personal relations with everybody, and get their views at first hand whenever I so desired, because I could not have one man speaking for all. [back]
Each nation has its own pet sins to which it is merciful and also sins which it treats as most abhorrent. In America we are peculiarly sensitive about big money contributions for which the donors expect any reward. In England, where in some ways the standard is higher than here, such contributions are accepted as a matter of course, nay, as one of the methods by which wealthy men obtain peerages. It would be well-nigh an impossibility for a man to secure a seat in the United States Senate by mere campaign contributions, in the way that seats in the British House of Lords have often been secured without any scandal being caused thereby. [back]
To illustrate my meaning I quote from a letter of mine to Senator Platt of December 13, 1899. He had been trying to get me to promote a certain Judge X over the head of another Judge Y. I wrote: "There is a strong feeling among the judges and the leading members of the bar that Judge Y ought not to have Judge X jumped over his head, and I do not see my way clear to doing it. I am inclined to think that the solution I mentioned to you is the solution I shall have to adopt. Remember the breakfast at Douglas Robinson's at 8:30." [back]